I’m a fairly typical home-entertainment geek with 2 TiVos with Cable boxes attached (these are the primary reason for my desire for whole-home entertainment – I want to watch my recorded shows from anywhere in the home)
The New State of Whole-Home Entertainment
David Feller | BOCS
The New State of Whole-Home Entertainment
I just want to watch my recorded shows in my bedroom – is that really so hard?
Author: David Feller
I’m a fairly typical home-entertainment geek with 2 TiVos with Cable boxes attached (these are the primary reason for my desire for whole-home entertainment – I want to watch my recorded shows from anywhere in the home), a Windows Media Center with all my movies and music (4TeraBytes of goodies), a Sony 400 disc DVD jukebox, an HDX1000 connected media player, and a home video security system (See picture). The two ugly blocks of wood are simply low cost heat control.
It’s great to sit in the family room and have access to all of that, but I really want it ALL at EVERY TV in my home. I don’t have Ethernet at every TV, nor am I interested in paying for another $12/month DVR at each of my other 7 TVs. I must have HD at my main TV, but in general, I’m satisfied with “excellent quality SD” for the rest of the home. Let’s explore the options.
Home entertainment keeps getting better and better. We have more sources: cable boxes, DVD jukeboxes, connected players, media centers, and DVRs of all types. At the same time, TVs are getting cheaper and we are all beginning to upgrade. Studies show that a large number of Americans have upgraded their main TV to a high definition flat screen, and while some have begun outfitting the whole house with flat screens, the majority of us are still using tubes and smaller flat screens at all those other TVs.
- The advent of VCRs initially gave us the ability to record and archive.
- Tivo, or more generically DVRs, gave us the ability to time shift.
- Sling gave us some ability to location shift outside the home.
- BUT true whole-home entertainment has been too technically difficult or too expensive until recently.
If we go back 5 years, the simple solution would have been RF modulation. Plug each device into a modulator and add some kind of wireless IR repeater system and for about $1200 you could get everything you wanted. But times change and modulation is not really an option. It’s also hard to be satisfied with the low end video quality of available modulators. Name brand or not, the quality is pretty bad – poor picture quality anywhere and no way to balance the signal so its good in every room. More importantly, however, is the loss of available bandwidth to put new channels. Cable companies have been forced into providing more and more content to compete with satellite service and maintain subscribers. Every useable frequency is either occupied with analog local stations, unusable due to interference from local emissions, or filled with stacked digital channels and services.
It is a little different in each region, but in general, cable companies use the lower channels (typically 2-60 or so) to broadcast local and some special interest analog stations with each channel occupying 6MHz of bandwidth. Everything above channel 70 (or so) is stacked with digital channels.
Using Quadtature Amplitude Modulation [QAM], a cable company can put 5-20 digital stations in each 6Mhz channel. Normally, they put an HD station and 3-5 SD stations in each slot. Note that some smaller and less scrupulous operators stack so many channels that they can no longer be really called high definition – although they continue to market them as such. There is the FM band (88-108MHz) of course, but so much signal from those stations leaks into the cable companies long cable lines that they can’t get a clean enough signal through and so they tend to avoid that band.
Typical modulation is out (you really don’t want to lose ESPN or A&E to be able to watch your DVR in the bedroom right?). Each modulated channel actually takes up two cable company channels and the extra harmonics created cause trouble with higher frequencies if you don’t take care where the new channels go.
If you put those new channels above 70 (most modulators actually only work above channel 70) you lose 10-20 digital cable channels for each of your own you insert.
You could certainly put in a big video switch and run composite or component cables all over your home – expensive and hugely labor intensive. You could simply put a DVR at every TV (plus a DVD player, a media player etc) – again hugely expensive and requires a large monthly payment to either the cable company or TiVo. You could network all your TVs – oh yeah you don’t have Ethernet at every TV and there isn’t enough wireless bandwidth yet to support all that simultaneous video.
What’s left? How about that FM band 88-108MHz. Turns out that in Cable-TV land, that is actually channels 95-99 and, strangely enough, channel 14. If we were to just clean that up as it enters the home it would make a great place to put our new channels.
Obviously, this all has to work together as a system
- A filter to clean up the FM spectrum as the CATV enters the home
- A high performance A/V modulator with its own special filter to get rid of the harmful harmonics
- A system that distributes that new signal all over the home
- A wireless control system
Could you put all that together from discrete components available at your local home theater distributor? Sure. There are lots of ways to put it together, but each require a lot of cash and, frankly, a lot of labor. You would also be left with the inherent problems of finding the right place to put the channel that does not destroy something else good on your network, running new coax and Ethernet lines throughout your home, and dealing with large and complicated remote controls.
New coax you say? Unless you live in a brand new home with 2 coax ports to every TV, you will need one to feed the new channels back up to your demarcation point and another to receive the combined signal for your TV.
Enough beating around the bush, there is, in fact, a system level product that combines all these pieces to bring you the simplified home distribution that we have all been waiting for – BOCS. (Broadcast over Cable System) From the previous technical descriptions, BOCS obviously provides a means to use a super high quality modulation within the home by integrating the various filters, signal conditioning, and channel agility required to circumvent “Big Cable’s” conquest of the entire frequency spectrum. But the two last pieces (distribution and control) are what really set BOCS apart.
Most of us only have one coax to our TV, and yes, that main TV is the best place to stack all you’re A/V sources. So what we need is a way to use that single coax bi-directionally: receiving cable TV down the wire and sending our new signals back up the same wire to the main junction box. Then when those new channels get back up there, we need a way to send them back down to every other TV in the home. It’s not magic, but since it is squarely in the domain of the RF engineer, it’s pretty close. The BOCS system includes a Supercombiner (we originally named it the “fancy mixer thing that goes at your demarcation point to allow whole-home distribution” but that name didn’t do so well in focus groups) – it looks basically like a cable TV splitter, and all you have to do is insert it right before the main splitter in your home to solve all those difficult wiring issues and keep you from having to run any new coax in your walls or attic. The Supercombiner has upstream and downstream amplifiers so your cable modem and VOIP service will still work from any room.
Cool, now we have three sources (a BOCS MediaHub has three inputs and creates three new channels within the home), they appear on every TV in the home, and you didn’t have to install any new wires to get it all up and running. In fact, with any luck you have spent all of 15 minutes on installation up to this point. But firing up a movie in the living room and watching it in your bedroom is only half the battle – it has to be brain dead simple to operate and you have to have total control of each individual source from anywhere in the home or the system is pretty much useless. Enter the BOCS remote.
The system uses a set of 900MHz remotes that let users in any room communicate back to the main BOCS MediaHub location. Quick sidenote – 900MHz? Seriously? Isn’t 2.4Ghz or 5.8GHz better – I mean, all the wireless LAN gurus have moved on from 900MHZ… Well, unless you have really fast fingers, you really don’t need 100Mbps through a TV remote but you really need reliable coverage and range – so what BOCS did was put the reliability of a two way “Ethernet like” communication system into a long range 900MHz radio infrastructure. Now when you push the channel up button, the remote doesn’t just send a blast out hoping someone will hear, it verifies that the MediaHub got the message and retries until it does – all in the blink of an eye. And the cool part is that since this is a wireless remote, no more laying in bed holding the remote above your head in awkward contortions to skip a commercial on your DVR (you all know you have done it) just leave it under the covers…
When you are on “Red” and push play, then, an RF signal is sent from the BOCS remote back to the MediaHub that basically says “Play Red”, then the proper Infrared code for playing whatever is attached to red is flashed by the MediaHub into the A/V device plugged into the Red channel via a small IR flasher stuck to the front of that device.
As for use-ability, BOCS breaks down your choices in each room to 4 simple to remember options. “Local TV” means just watch normal cable TV like you always have in that room. Then you have the Red, Green, and Blue channels – those are your three new channels that are fed by your three A/V sources. You don’t have to remember which channel the Tivo is on or which channel the DVD is on – it’s just Red, Green, and Blue.
So, the BOCS system solves the major problems with home distribution, eliminates any new wiring, and makes use-ability simple. Wait you say – what about HD? The majority of customers that want HD at a second location simply leave one HD DVR in that other location – but if you want whole-home distribution of HD in the short term, we recommend adding a Zeevee QAM modulator onto the basic BOCS system. This essentially replaces the Blue channel with a QAM modulated version.
If you are a careful reader, you would have noticed that in my list of sources I have more than three. (The basic BOCS unit has three inputs – red, green, and blue). The need for more is driven mostly by my love of the HDX1000 – a nifty little “connected media player” that finds all the content (movies, music, pictures) on all the computers in my home, catalogs them and makes them easy to access from any TV. With it’s internet connection, it can view Youtube, veoh, flikr, mediafly, bittorrent, and other online sources using only the BOCS remote on any TV in my home. Since I had to add the HDX1000, the home security system was the next logical source. I use a stardot 6 input mpeg video server with a Greyfox tiler so that I can access all my cameras from anywhere AND with the tiler I can see them all on my “Blue-2” channel. You can add a second BOCS MediaHub to a home – if you notice on the remote there is a shift button (yellow up arrow) – so the first three sources are Red, Green, and Blue and the second set of three are “Shift-Red”, “Shift-Green” and “Shift-Blue”. So I actually have 6 independent sources running at the same time all over the house.
Whole Home entertainment is now truly at your fingertips!
For more information check into www.myXtender.com
Or visit David’s Whole-Home blog at www.myXtender.com/wholehome
The BOCS MediaHub and the HDX1000 can be purchased at www.amperordirect.com
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The content & opinions in this article are the author’s and do not necessarily represent the views of HomeToys
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